April 1, 2009  

Team building through an inauguration

On Jan. 20, the eyes of the nation and the world were on the peaceful transfer of leadership of the United States. The military has participated in presidential inaugurations since the first, on April 30, 1789, when members of the local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted President George Washington to his first inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in New York City.

Those were simpler days. Suspicions of a standing federal army brought the disbanding of the Continental Army after the success of the Revolution and withdrawal of the British. But clashes with native populations in the Northwest Territory frontier led by steps to creation of a professional U.S. Army, called, at first, the Legion of the United States. The First Sublegion (of four) was the forerunner of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard” whose soldiers are among those of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington and participants in the inauguration.

The historic concern that the military be subservient to civil authority remains relevant today in the structure of the military, the secretarial departments that govern our service branches, and the vesting of commander-in-chief authority to the president of the U.S. In addition, posse comitatus provisions enacted after the Reconstruction era in 1878 and expanded by Defense Department regulation prohibit the military from enforcing domestic laws except in clearly defined situations, as with National Guards activated by state governors — an essential distinction between Title 32 (state authority) and Title 10 (active-duty forces).

The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security declared the inauguration to be a National Special Security Event (NSSE), by U.S. Code [18 USC Para. 3056] making the Secret Service the lead agency role for the design and the implementation of the security plan. NSSEs are those prominent events that involve participation of the president and are deemed to require an enhanced level of security. Military support may be provided and is conditionally exempted from the Posse Comitatus Act when needed to respond to a nuclear threat or as directed by the president to quell a civil insurrection.

In general, however, we provide ground-based homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities. When called upon, we become a Joint Task Force for whatever period may be necessary. When activated by U.S. Northern Command, as we were for the inauguration, Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) directs all military forces committed to a regional crisis within the National Capital Region.

Since 2003, JTF-NCR has activated 14 times, all but two operations as part of an NSSE response. Last year, we had the opportunity to refine our template for NSSE support during four events — the 2008 state of the union address, the papal visit, the 9/11 Pentagon memorial dedication, and the G20 Global Financial Summit.

The inauguration was not fundamentally different, but it was different in scale as well as in the companion mission we had through AFIC of providing world-class ceremonial and public affairs support to the inauguration, working with the new administration’s representative body, which was the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), which conducted the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural lunch at the Capitol.

A new era

From the first, this was not the 2005 inauguration all over again. The nation and the region were working under security and response frameworks that had developed greatly over the prior four years, and the election would result, regardless of which party won, in a change of administrations. As Barack Obama went on to win the presidency, the first American of African ancestry to do so, the historic milestone sparked broad interest among supporters to attend, and recognition by the Secret Service that the sheer magnitude of this interest alone could increase potential threats.

The 2009 inauguration was the largest inaugural security operation in U.S. history. We did not set out to be the biggest, but we did intend to be thorough. Within the command, my operations section pulled together a joint planning group that met weekly, and as required set up working groups to tasks such as security and credentialing, consequence management, and logistics. For example, with Northern Command support and approval, we fully explored the possible applications of some of the military’s unique capabilities and how they might — and ultimately did — assist.

For the military the non-ceremonial force gathered was the largest Title 10 force assembled in the U.S. by NorthCom since Hurricane Katrina. More than 3,000 assigned service members and more than 300 government civilians and contractors were at hand.

Ceremonially, we added some 750 personnel under AFIC, growing from a small cadre 18 months prior to a core of some 250 that received its final operational resources of another 500 in time to orient them to the specific tasks they would fulfill during the inauguration period. They directed some 5,000 ceremonial troops and supported 18 inaugural events, some included at short notice. Coordination between AFIC and the PIC was outstanding, helping to work through the scores of assistance requests to assure our help was both responsive and appropriate.

The detailed approach taken under my command was replicated to a great extent at the interagency level. The Secret Service established an overall executive steering committee and 23 individual subcommittees staffed by persons with expertise in areas they were working on. I was part of the larger committee and our staff planners, generally those from our working groups, were on the subcommittees. Information flowed in and out. Although the military had more resources than most, we sought to use those for the benefit of all; our personnel often were able to facilitate communication among other agencies, both personally and through some of our tactics. Our consequence management working group, tackling the “what ifs,” developed scenario-based decision support templates that would provide the ability for quick and agile decision-making — key to effective response.

For some on the staff, the increased contact possibilities this led to was part blessing, part curse. But I believe that it definitely aided resolution of specific planning problems as we were able even at short notice in the final hours to make contact and adjust conflicts. That this might entail phone calls at home or intensive use of the BlackBerry was a byproduct. There is a concept that author Steven Covey uses — “the speed of trust” — that is applicable here.

Gauging the crowd

The planning proceeded from site planning for discrete events toward integration of overall operations with transportation, communication and command and control aspects considered so that all involved would have and maintain a common operating picture. The biggest unknown was how many would show up. A communications campaign cautioned the public about potentially large crowds; road closings, to include all bridge crossings from Virginia into the District; security checks; and the need to maintain flexibility and a sense of humor. For the estimated 1.8 million who did attend, they did bring patience and good will. A mark of success noted by the Secret Service is that not one person was arrested.

One of the more difficult parts of the puzzle was the ability to provide assets where they needed to be. Movement, i.e., transportation, was critical, including for the ceremonial troops. We worked with multiple jurisdictions to ensure, for example, that members of a military band taking part in the parade would be able to regroup for a ball they were performing at, a rest stop at their installation also being required. There would be similar problems for first responders if we had to get these life-savers where they needed to go in the event of an emergency. In one instance, medical air evacuation was made available; a potentially big hole the military was able to fill, averting problems in advance.

Key to execution of the strategic planning being done in transportation, the JTF National Capital Region’s logistics director, working with AFIC, established a 24-hour movement control center (MCC) that helped move hundreds of buses and thousands of civilian parade participants from the Pentagon to the Ellipse. In addition, the MCC managed an additional 230 movements of 18,000 ceremonial participates to various staging areas, assembly areas and ceremonial venues with its own vehicles.

An example of the trust extended our military police that Lt. Col. Kenneth Sheppard, our provost marshal planner, cites was working with multiple area police forces to get the military police of the Army, Navy and Air Force the approval to run with blue lights on streets in their jurisdictions. Even the movement from the Capitol to the White House brushes against the authority of some six or seven law enforcement agencies.

So our long-standing and unprecedented partnership with the National Guard and federal, regional, state and local interagency partners was critical to the event’s success. We understand well our support role, one we have practiced from tabletop exercises to actual NSSE events. The Secret Service is the lead federal agency for those events, but it works with and through other agencies and the military to tailor security appropriate to the circumstances. As its spokesman, Special Agent Malcolm Wiley acknowledges they “can’t do it alone. We don’t have the level of expertise necessary to look at every solitary factor. We rely on our partners.”

D.C. assistance

In the Capital Region, the Secret Service has, besides the JFHQ-NCR, the District of Columbia government, including its Metropolitan Police and Fire Departments.

The number of military personnel attached to JTF-NCR for the defense support contingency missions never numbered more than about 2,500. It was large, primarily adding niche capabilities, but was greatly smaller than the crowd control and the security presence ultimately mustered. More than 25,000 law enforcement officers from scores of federal, state and local agencies were called in to work together to create a safe and secure environment. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department doubled its force of 4,100 officers, 600 agents with the FBI were on duty, as were all 1,600 U.S. Capitol Police officers. Not insignificantly, the National Guard provided some 7,000 additional unformed personnel on the streets aiding in crowd direction and overall good behavior. Our relationship was one of a true partnership, each working our own side of the street but able, if needed, to come together in the middle.

As a further word about the Guardsmen who came from more than two dozen states and territories besides D.C., Virginia and Maryland, the U.S. Park Police credits the quadrupling of its force by National Guardsmen as potentially lifesaving, as they were able to prevent dangerous congestions at critical points, such as Metro stations and Mall access control gates, one area where there will be much study, given the inability of some ticket holders to attend as a result of the press of persons.

The National Capital Region is interlinked with a honeycomb of command centers, those of the FBI, FEMA, DCHSEMA and our own Joint Operations Center at Fort McNair. By our command’s last count, there are some 143 of these operations centers within the region, and liaison personnel plus innovative tools such as the Web-enabled crisis information management system, that keep surprises to a minimum and manageable. We are able to staff 10 of the operations centers and in-turn hosted liaisons with the Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, FEMA, FBI, and Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Capitol Police and D.C. Metro Police Department.

The Secret Service provides presidential security wherever it is needed. When it operates within the NCR, it has partners with whom agents are familiar. “It really lessens the learning curve. When you have a partner like JFHQ, the relationship makes our jobs so much easier,” Wiley said.

The inauguration presented the command with incredible extremes: record crowds, extreme weather conditions, multiple law enforcement jurisdictions and numerous transportation issues.

The tabletop exercises we held, inviting our interagency partners’ participation and the inaugural full-dress rehearsal, helped forge incredible relationships with special-event planners at the federal, state and local levels. These relationships also served as the basis for the multiple threat analyses and development of a comprehensive ceremonial and consequence-management support plans.

The command followed the first principles of our strategic plan in our approach to the inauguration. Our key concepts are to engage, operationalize, synchronize and institutionalize.

Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, Jr. is commander of Joint Force Headquarters National Caption Region and the Army Military District of Washington.